3. Proceed with caution through dangerous intersection.
As Angels manager Mike Scioscia pointed out yesterday, the difference between these Angels and those of past years is like "night and day." (Original, eh?) The addition of Mark Teixeira has benefited both Garret Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero, thickening the Angels lineup considerably. Anderson has been batting second and Torii Hunter fifth (with Teixeira and Guerrero in between), and Sox pitchers may have to expend a great deal of energy during that part of the Angels lineup.
Here's the good news: With the exception of Teixiera, the meat of the Angels lineup is not particularly patient. If pitched to properly -- as the Sox have done in past postseasons with Anderson and Guerrero -- they can be neutralized. Where the Sox have to be careful is at the bottom of the lineup and with leadoff man Chone Figgins, the table-setters for the Angels' big four. If the Nos. 8, 9, and 1 hitters in the Los Angeles lineup get on base, the Sox may have no choice but to challenge everyone from Anderson to Hunter.
If that happens, fasten your seatbelts. There will be turbulence.
2. Beat the Angels at their own game.
For what the Sox lost in the Manny Ramirez deal, they gained in other areas. Jason Bay is a better all-around player than Ramirez who runs the bases well and aggressively while playing good defense. Jed Lowrie hasn't made an error yet at shortstop. With the exception of David Ortiz, the starters in the Boston lineup generally run the bases well and the Sox have more speed than they have possessed in a long time.
Jacoby Ellsbury could play a huge role in this series because of his ability to generate offense. As colleague Bob Ryan has pointed out, Ellsbury scores an unusually high percentage of the time he gets on. If Ellsbury can make himself a factor in this series -- and that could be a coin flip -- the Sox might be in a position to get meaningful at-bats from Dustin Pedroia, Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis, who are their best run producers. That is an enormous key to their offense.
If Ellsbury gets completely shut down, the series could be over.
1. Lean on starting pitchers.
One of the oldest clichés in baseball is that the starting pitcher sets the tone, but never has this been more important for the Red Sox. During the regular season, at those times their lineup struggled and their bullpen faltered, the Red Sox usually could depend on Lester, Matsuzaka, Beckett and, for that matter, Tim Wakefield. The rotation was the strength of the club and finished with more victories (71) than any team but the Blue Jays (71) and ... the Angels (73).
While Sox starters actually pitched fewer innings this season than last, do not be fooled. In those games he absolutely, positively had to win this year, manager Terry Francona didn't seem to trust anyone in his bullpen other than Papelbon. Francona was more inclined to let his starters go an extra inning than he was to go to a sometimes shaky middle relief and set-up crew, and he may have to do the same now.
Last year, outside of Beckett, Sox starters generally were asked to go no more than five innings because of the strength of the bullpen. That can't happen this year. Sox starters need to at least six innings and, more preferably, seven, which will allow Francona to match up his relievers (other than Papelbon) in the late innings.
Even if Sox starters keep the team in the game for five innings -- this means you, Dice-K -- prematurely turning the game over to the bullpen could be fatal against this Angels lineup and relief corps.
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